John Layman Compares Mars Attacks: Occupation and Chew to Looney Tunes's Road Runner

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Chew co-creator and best-selling writer John Layman (with the art team of Andy Kuhn and John McCrea) takes the Mars Attacks franchise to a darker place this week, with the release of the first issue of Mars Attack: Occupation, a story that takes place on a conquered Earth, crushed under the bootheels of the iconic Martians from the Mars Attacks card series.

The Martians came. The Martians saw. The Martians conquered. Now the space invaders cruelly rule over humanity, which has no hope for liberation... until Ruby Johnson decides that she has had enough.

Layman joined ComicBook.com to discuss Mars Attacks: Occupation, in stores today. You can get it at your local comic shop or on ComiXology.

As somebody who has a really strong voice in your creator-owned work, is your process different when you do work-for-hire or licensed books like this or your Batman run?

My approach to both is more or less the same. Respect the characters, and respect the audience. It's different when it's your own characters, because you have more of an attachment, and you ultimately can do anything with them. Work-for-hires are characters you can guide in your stories, but ultimately don't control them. But if you are true to who the characters are, that's really not a problem. My philosophy is not to take any gig where I don't feel like I can do justice to the characters or the world.

What was the most appealing element of working on Mars Attacks?

I started collecting Mars Attacks cards literally decades ago now. I loved that subversive cartoon violence and humor inherent to the property. Plus, ya know…Martians and crazy 50s/60s sci-fi tropes and mad excess.

Do you think the absurdity, violence and general aweomeness of something like Warrior Chicken Poyo made you an obvious candidate for this gig?

They certainly both share the same sort of cartoon violence. I'd go a bit further and say that these Mars Attacks comics and Poyo comics are pretty much the 21st Century equivalent of Warner Bros. Road Runner cartoons.

This isn't the first Mars Attacks from IDW, but they've varied up the story, feel, and everything else each time. Is that helpful to let you carve out your own voice, or do you still find yourself staring back at all the research you can find?

I don't do a lot of research. I have some folks at Topps I use as sounding boards, but I know the property pretty well at this point. It's more of a case of returning to a world I enjoy and am comfortable in.

I feel like a really underestimated element of mainstream comics is the colors. How hands-on were you in helping to guide the look, and how important do you think it is with a book like Mars Attacks?

I letter the book, like I try to letter all my stuff, but I generally keep my nose out of coloring matters. My philosophy is if the artist is happy with the colors (and the editor,) that's good enough for me. I'm no kind of coloring expert, and I don't want to be another chef in the kitchen. I might give a note — literally A NOTE — every issue or two, but I'm pretty hands-off in coloring matters.

Obviously this is a lot more serious take on the property than most of what we've seen before. Is that how the series was sold to you, or did you bring that to the table?

Again, it comes to respecting the characters and the world. The concept, humans living in a world occupied by a Martian invasion force, is fundamentally less humorous than the previous mini-series, which focused more on outrageous mayhem. So I'm just trying to capture the appropriate tone. Which is not to say Mars Attacks: Occupation is dark… but it is slighty darkER than the previous minis. It's still, for the most part, rollicking fun sci-fi adventure — with a hearty dose of ultra-violence!

What's your elevator pitch on this story for those who don't know anything yet?

This mini is Gladiator meets Rocky, set in a Mars Attacks dystopia!

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Can you tell us a little bit about Ruby Johnson?

Ruby Johnson, the protagonist of the series, is the daughter of champion prizefighter Diamond Jerry Johnson, who gave his life during the earliest part of the Martian invasion. Fed up in this world she is trapped in, Ruby fights back, and then ends up not just enslaved— but destined for slaughter for Martian entertainment in their fighting pits. Only Ruby doesn't die like she's supposed to… and humanity might have a hero to rally around… assuming Ruby continues to survive.